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Developmental Smith Has Starter Potential

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb features Virginia Tech offensive lineman Lecitus Smith.

It’s rare to find a sixth-round draft pick that’s ready to start from Day 1 in the NFL. Of the 44 prospects taken in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, only three of them were a primary starter as rookies.

Developmental prospects are common in the later rounds of the draft. The key to a good sixth-round pick is landing a player who could become a starter in the future.

That’s the potential Virginia Tech offensive guard Lecitus Smith has entering the 2022 NFL Draft.

Projected mostly as a sixth-round pick, Smith figures to be a developmental project at the next level. But some scouts like his chances to grow into a solid contributor as a starting guard.

Smith arrived in Blacksburg as a 3-star tight end in the 2017 recruiting class. But after one college season at tight end, Smith switched to offensive line, where he became a three-year starter at guard.

In all three of his seasons as a starter, the Hokies were ranked top five in the ACC in rushing. During 2020, Virginia Tech led the conference with 240 rushing yards per game.

“Smith is an impact run-blocker in a downhill run scheme predicated off of inside zone, duo and power,” NFL scout Brandon Thorn of Bleacher Report wrote. “He has the demeanor, play strength and technique to displace, sustain and control blocks consistently and is a firm, reliable anchor in pass protection.”

Virginia Tech averaged 198 rushing yards per game during Smith’s three years as a starter. Smith earned All-ACC honorable mention during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

NFL analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, though, was not nearly as high on Smith as a run blocker. In fact, he was highly critical of Smith in the running game, instead complimenting the Virginia Tech prospect as a pass protector.

“He really struggles with hand placement and staying under control at the point of attack and on work-up blocks,” Zierlein wrote. “His lack of consistency as a run blocker is balanced by surprising technique and success in pass protection.”

Because of his issues, Zierlein was only willing to project Smith as an “average backup with the ability to step in and start from time to time” in the NFL. Zierlein also predicted Smith to be drafted in the sixth round.

The ESPN big board for the 2022 NFL Draft shares that projection. The ESPN draft scouts ranked Smith the No. 194 overall player, including 17th-best guard in the class.

If the ESPN big board projection is correct within 10 selections before or after No. 194 pick, Smith will go in the sixth round.

One characteristic offensive guards that go on Day 3 usually have is versatility. With typically only seven active offensive linemen on game days, NFL teams like to have backup linemen who can play multiple positions.

Smith made one start at left tackle in his college career, but in his other 36 starts, he played left guard. That lack of versatility could hurt his draft stock.

Still, NFL draft analyst Joe Marino of The Draft Network likes Smith going earlier on Day 3. He also argued that Smith has the potential to develop into a starter

“Smith features an interesting build that includes a thick lower half, condensed midsection and modest length,” Marino wrote. “He has good athleticism, functional strength and natural knee bend, which leads to consistency in all phases.

“Smith profiles best to a zone rushing scheme at guard but lacks positional flexibility overall. Smith is likely to provide developmental depth in year one but has the makeup of a reliable starter by year two or three.”

Even Zierlein, one of his more critical evaluators, stated with the correct coaching and discipline, a lot of Smith’s issues are correctable.

Smith isn’t going to break the mold of most Day 3 selections. He’s a developmental prospect, who needs a year of NFL training to become ready to compete at the next level.

But under the right tutelage, he could shine. That makes him one of the more intriguing offensive line prospects that will be available on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.